MEANWHILE MY beans, the length of whose rows, added together, wasseven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for theearliest had grown considerably before the latest were in theground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was themeaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculeanlabor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so manymore than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I gotstrength like Antaeus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows.This was my curious labor all summer- to make this portion of theearth's surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries,johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasantflowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans orbeans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have aneye to them; and this is my day's work. It is a fine broad leaf tolook on. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this drysoil, and what fertility is in the soil itself, which for the mostpart is lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and mostof all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acreclean. But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, andbreak up their ancient herb garden? Soon, however, the remaining beanswill be too tough for them, and go forward to meet new foes.
When I was four years old, as I well remember, I was brought fromBoston to this my native town, through these very woods and thisfield, to the pond. It is one of the oldest seenes stamped on mymemory. And now tonight my flute has waked the echoes over that verywater. The pines still stand here older than I; or, if some havefallen, I have cooked my supper with their stumps, and a new growth isrising all around, preparing another aspect for new infant eyes.Almost the same johnswort springs from the same perennial root in thispasture, and even I have at length helped to clothe that fabulouslandscape of my infant dreams, and one of the results of my presenceand influence is seen in these bean leaves, corn blades, and potatovines.
I planted about two acres and a half of upland; and as it was onlyabout fifteen years since the land was cleared, and I myself had gotout two or three cords of stumps, I did not give it any manure; but inthe course of the summer it appeared by the arrowheads which Iturned up in hoeing, that an extinct nation had anciently dwelt hereand planted corn and beans ere white men came to clear the land, andso, to some extent, had exhausted the soil for this very crop.
Before yet any woodchuck or squirrel had run across the road, or thesun had got above the shrub oaks, while all the dew was on, though thefarmers warned me against it- I would advise you to do all your workif possible while the dew is on- I began to level the ranks of haughtyweeds in my bean-field and throw dust upon their heads. Early in themorning I worked barefooted, dabbling like a plastic artist in thedewy and crumbling sand, but later in the day the sun blistered myfeet. There the sun lighted me to hoe beans, pacing slowly backwardand forward over that yellow gravelly upland, between the long greenrows, fifteen rods, the one end terminating in a shrub oak copse whereI could rest in the shade, the other in a blackberry field where thegreen berries deepened their tints by the time I had made anotherbout. Removing the weeds, putting fresh soil about the bean stems, andencouraging this weed which I had sown, making the yellow soil expressits summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms rather than in wormwoodand piper and millet grass, making the earth say beans instead ofgrass- this was my daily work. As I had little aid from horses orcattle, or hired men or boys, or improved implements of husbandry, Iwas much slower, and became much more intimate with my beans thanusual. But labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge ofdrudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. It has aconstant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar it yields aclassic result. A very agricola laboriosus was I to travellers boundwestward through Lincoln and Wayland to nobody knows where; theysitting at their ease in gigs, with elbows on knees, and reins looselyhanging in festoons; I the home-staying, laborious native of the soil.But soon my homestead was out of their sight and thought. It was theonly open and cultivated field for a great distance on either sideof the road, so they made the most of it; and sometimes the man in thefield heard more of travellers' gossip and comment than was meantfor his ear: "Beans so late! peas so late!"- for I continued toplant when others had begun to hoe- the ministerial husbandman had notsuspected it. "Corn, my boy, for fodder; corn for fodder." "Does helive there?" asks the black bonnet of the gray coat; and thehard-featured farmer reins up his grateful dobbin to inquire whatyou are doing where he sees no manure in the furrow, and recommendsa little chip dirt, or any little waste stuff, or it may be ashes orplaster. But here were two acres and a half of furrows, and only a hoefor cart and two hands to draw it- there being an aversion to othercarts and horses- and chip dirt far away. Fellow-travellers as theyrattled by compared it aloud with the fields which they had passed, sothat I came to know how I stood in the agricultural world. This wasone field not in Mr. Colman's report. And, by the way, who estimatesthe value of the crop which nature yields in the still wilder fieldsunimproved by man? The crop of English hay is carefully weighed, themoisture calculated, the silicates and the potash; but in all dellsand pond-holes in the woods and pastures and swamps grows a rich andvarious crop only unreaped by man. Mine was, as it were, theconnecting link between wild and cultivated fields; as some states arecivilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage orbarbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, ahalf-cultivated field. They were beans cheerfully returning to theirwild and primitive state that I cultivated, and my hoe played the Ranzdes Vaches for them.
Near at hand, upon the topmost spray of a birch, sings the brownthrasher- or red mavis, as some love to call him- all the morning,glad of your society, that would find out another farmer's field ifyours were not here. While you are planting the seed, he cries-"Drop it, drop it- cover it up, cover it up- pull it up, pull it up,pull it up." But this was not corn, and so it was safe from suchenemies as he. You may wonder what his rigmarole, his amateur Paganiniperformances on one string or on twenty, have to do with yourplanting, and yet prefer it to leached ashes or plaster. It was acheap sort of top dressing in which I had entire faith.
As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe, Idisturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval yearslived under these heavens, and their small implements of war andhunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingledwith other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having beenburned by Indian fires, and some by the sun, and also bits ofpottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of thesoil. When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed tothe woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor whichyielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beansthat I hoed, nor I that hoed beans; and I remembered with as much pityas pride, if I remembered at all, my acquaintances who had gone to thecity to attend the oratorios. The nighthawk circled overhead in thesunny afternoons- for I sometimes made a day of it- like a mote in theeye, or in heaven's eye, falling from time to time with a swoop anda sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags andtatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; small imps that fill theair and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the topsof hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripplescaught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to floatin the heavens; such kindredship is in nature. The hawk is aerialbrother of the wave which he sails over and surveys, those his perfectair- inflated wings answering to the elemental unfledged pinions ofthe sea. Or sometimes I watched a pair of hen- hawks circling highin the sky, alternately soaring and descending, approaching, andleaving one another, as if they were the embodiment of my ownthoughts, Or I was attracted by the passage of wild pigeons fromthis wood to that, with a slight quivering winnowing sound and carrierhaste; or from under a rotten stump my hoe turned up a sluggishportentous and outlandish spotted salamander, a trace of Egypt and theNile, yet our contemporary. When I paused to lean on my hoe, thesesounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of theinexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.
On gala days the town fires its great guns, which echo likepopguns to these woods, and some waifs of martial music occasionallypenetrate thus far. To me, away there in my bean-field at the otherend of the town, the big guns sounded as if a puffball had burst;and when there was a military turnout of which I was ignorant, Ihave sometimes had a vague sense all the day of some sort of itchingand disease in the horizon, as if some eruption would break outthere soon, either scarlatina or canker-rash, until at length somemore favorable puff of wind, making haste over the fields and up theWayland road, brought me information of the "trainers." It seemed bythe distant hum as if somebody's bees had swarmed, and that theneighbors, according to Virgil's advice, by a faint tintinnabulum uponthe most sonorous of their domestic utensils, were endeavoring to callthem down into the hive again. And when the sound died quite away, andthe hum had ceased, and the most favorable breezes told no tale, Iknew that they had got the last drone of them all safely into theMiddlesex hive, and that now their minds were bent on the honey withwhich it was smeared.
I felt proud to know that the liberties of Massachusetts and ofour fatherland were in such safe keeping; and as I turned to my hoeingagain I was filled with an inexpressible confidence, and pursued mylabor cheerfully with a calm trust in the future.
When there were several bands of musicians, it sounded as if all thevillage was a vast bellows and all the buildings expanded andcollapsed alternately with a din. But sometimes it was a reallynoble and inspiring strain that reached these woods, and the trumpetthat sings of fame, and I felt as if I could spit a Mexican with agood relish- for why should we always stand for trifles?- and lookedround for a woodchuck or a skunk to exercise my chivalry upon. Thesemartial strains seemed as far away as Palestine, and reminded me ofa march of crusaders in the horizon, with a slight tantivy andtremulous motion of the elm tree tops which overhang the village. Thiswas one of the great days; though the sky had from my clearing onlythe same everlastingly great look that it wears daily, and I saw nodifference in it.
It was a singular experience that long acquaintance which Icultivated with beans, what with planting, and hoeing, and harvesting,and threshing, and picking over and selling them- the last was thehardest of all- I might add eating, for I did taste. I wasdetermined to know beans. When they were growing, I used to hoe fromfive o'clock in the morning till noon, and commonly spent the restof the day about other affairs. Consider the intimate and curiousacquaintance one makes with various kinds of weeds- it will bearsome iteration in the account, for there was no little iteration inthe labor- disturbing their delicate organizations so ruthlessly,and making such invidious distinctions with his hoe, levelling wholeranks of one species, and sedulously cultivating another. That's Romanwormwood- that's pigweed- that's sorrel- that's piper-grass- have athim, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don't let him havea fibre in the shade, if you do he'll turn himself t'other side up andbe as green as a leek in two days. A long war, not with cranes, butwith weeds, those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side.Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe, and thinthe ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches with weedy dead.Many a lusty crest- waving Hector, that towered a whole foot above hiscrowding comrades, fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust.
Those summer days which some of my contemporaries devoted to thefine arts in Boston or Rome, and others to contemplation in India, andothers to trade in London or New York, I thus, with the otherfarmers of New England, devoted to husbandry. Not that I wantedbeans to eat, for I am by nature a Pythagorean, so far as beans areconcerned, whether they mean porridge or voting, and exchanged themfor rice; but, perchance, as some must work in fields if only forthe sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker one day.It was on the whole a rare amusement, which, continued too long, mighthave become a dissipation. Though I gave them no manure, and did nothoe them all once, I hoed them unusualy well as far as I went, and waspaid for it in the end, "there being in truth," as Evelyn says, "nocompost or laetation whatsoever comparable to this continual motion,repastination, and turning of the mould with the spade." "Theearth," he adds elsewhere, "especially if fresh, has a certainmagnetism in it, by which it attracts the salt, power, or virtue (callit either) which gives it life, and is the logic of all the laborand stir we keep about it, to sustain us; all dungings and othersordid temperings being but the vicars succedaneous to thisimprovement." Moreover, this being one of those "worn- out andexhausted lay fields which enjoy their sabbath," had perchance, as SirKenelm Digby thinks likely, attracted "vital spirits" from the air.I harvested twelve bushels of beans.
But to be more particular, for it is complained that Mr. Colmanhas reported chiefly the expensive experiments of gentlemen farmers,my outgoes were,
For a hoe.....................................$ 0.54 Plowing, harrowing, and furrowing............. 7.50 (Too much.) Beans for seed................................ 3.12 1/2 Potatoes for seed............................. 1.33 Peas for seed................................. 0.40 Turnip seed................................... 0.06 White line for crow fence..................... 0.02 Horse cultivator and boy three hours.......... 1.00 Horse and cart to get crop.................... 0.75 ----- In all.......................................$ 14.72 1/2
My income was (patremfamilias vendacem, non emacem esse oportet),from
Nine bushels and twelve quarts of beans sold..$ 16.94 Five bushels large potatoes................... 2.50 Nine bushels small potatoes................... 2.25 Grass......................................... 1.00 Stalks........................................ 0.75 ----- In all......................................$ 23.44 Leaving a pecuniary profit, as I have elsewhere said, of..............$ 8.71 1/2
This is the result of my experience in raising beans: Plant thecommon small white bush bean about the first of June, in rows threefeet by eighteen inches apart, being careful to select fresh round andunmixed seed. First look out for worms, and supply vacancies byplanting anew. Then look out for woodchucks, if it is an exposedplace, for they will nibble off the earliest tender leaves almostclean as they go; and again, when the young tendrils make theirappearance, they have notice of it, and will shear them off withboth buds and young pods, sitting erect like a squirrel. But above allharvest as early as possible, if you would escape frosts and have afair and salable crop; you may save much loss by this means.
This further experience also I gained: I said to myself, I willnot plant beans and corn with so much industry another summer, butsuch seeds, if the seed is not lost, as sincerity, truth,simplicity, faith, innocence, and the like, and see if they will notgrow in this soil, even with less toil and manurance, and sustainme, for surely it has not been exhausted for these crops. Alas! I saidthis to myself; but now another summer is gone, and another, andanother, and I am obliged to say to you, Reader, that the seedswhich I planted, if indeed they were the seeds of those virtues,were wormeaten or had lost their vitality, and so did not come up.Commonly men will only be brave as their fathers were brave, or timid.This generation is very sure to plant corn and beans each new yearprecisely as the Indians did centuries ago and taught the firstsettlers to do, as if there were a fate in it. I saw an old man theother day, to my astonishment, making the holes with a hoe for theseventieth time at least, and not for himself to lie down in! Butwhy should not the New Englander try new adventures, and not lay somuch stress on his grain, his potato and grass crop, and his orchards-raise other crops than these? Why concern ourselves so much aboutour beans for seed, and not be concerned at all about a new generationof men? We should really be fed and cheered if when we met a man wewere sure to see that some of the qualities which I have named,which we all prize more than those other productions, but which arefor the most part broadcast and floating in the air, had taken rootand grown in him. Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, forinstance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount or newvariety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors should be instructed tosend home such seeds as these, and Congress help to distribute themover all the land. We should never stand upon ceremony with sincerity.We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by ourmeanness, if there were present the kernel of worth andfriendliness. We should not meet thus in haste. Most men I do not meetat all, for they seem not to have time; they are busy about theirbeans. We would not deal with a man thus plodding ever, leaning on ahoe or a spade as a staff between his work, not as a mushroom, butpartially risen out of the earth, something more than erect, likeswallows alighted and walking on the ground:
"And as he spake, his mings would now and then Spread, as he meant to fly, then close again-"so that we should suspect that we might be conversing with an angel.Bread may not always nourish us; but it always does us good, it eventakes stiffness out of our joints, and makes us supple and buoyant,when we knew not what ailed us, to recognize any generosity in manor Nature, to share any unmixed and heroic joy.
Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that husbandry wasonce a sacred art; but it is pursued with irreverent haste andheedlessness by us, our object being to have large farms and largecrops merely. We have no festival, nor procession, nor ceremony, notexcepting our cattle-shows and so-called Thanksgivings, by which thefarmer expresses a sense of the sacredness of his calling, or isreminded of its sacred origin. It is the premium and the feast whichtempt him. He sacrifices not to Ceres and the Terrestrial Jove, but tothe infernal Plutus rather. By avarice and selfishness, and agrovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soilas property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscapeis deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads themeanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber. Cato says thatthe profits of agriculture are particularly pious or just (maximequepius quaestus), and according to Varro the old Romans "called the sameearth Mother and Ceres, and thought that they who cultivated it leda pious and useful life, and that they alone were left of the raceof King Saturn."
We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fieldsand on the prairies and forests without distinction. They allreflect and absorb his rays alike, and the former make but a smallpart of the glorious picture which he beholds in his daily course.In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden.Therefore we should receive the benefit of his light and beat with acorresponding trust and magnanimity. What though I value the seed ofthese beans, and harvest that in the fall of the year? This broadfield which I have looked at so long looks not to me as theprincipal cultivator, but away from me to influences more genial toit, which water and make it green. These beans have results whichare not harvested by me. Do they not grow for woodchucks partly? Theear of wheat (in Latin spica, obsoletely speca, from spe, hope) shouldnot be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain (granumfrom gerendo, bearing) is not all that it bears. How, then, can ourharvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weedswhose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters littlecomparatively whether the fields fill the farmer's barns. The truehusbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest noconcern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, andfinish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to theproduce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only hisfirst but his last fruits also.